Another Bhopal? Sonbhadra-Singrauli has all the ingredients

AVESH TIWARI@PatrikaNews | 7 June 2016

Have you heard of the Sonbhadra-Singrauli belt? This region at the cusp of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is billed by many as India’s energy capital. What nobody talks of is how this belt is on the brink of a disaster that can match the Bhopal disaster.Another Bhopal? Sonbhadra-Singrauli has all the ingredients

The methyl isocyanate leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal led to India’s biggest industrial disaster on 2 December, 1984. Such was the scale of the leak that horror stories haven’t stop coming out three decades on. But have we learnt any lesson?

Doesn’t seem so if we look at Sonbhadra-Singrauli. The 40 square-kilometre area hosts some half-a-dozen power plants – both coal-fired and hydro-electric. Their combined capacity of about 21,000 megawatts (MW) cater to a large part of the country.

Now private groups such as Reliance, Lanco and Essar as well as state-owned utilities are set to add 20,000 MW more by setting up several projects in the next five years.

The belt also houses several other industries like an aluminum, chemical and carbon factories of the Birlas and a cement factory owned by the Jaypee Group.

But these impressive numbers tell just one side of the story.

The Sonbhadra-Singrauli belt is also known for the plight of its farmers whose land has been ruined by mining and limestone.

This region is also home to over five lakh Adivasis. In fact, Sonbhadra is the only district of Uttar Pradesh where tribals are in a majority.

However, the fruits of industrial activity have barely reached these people with most of them find it difficult to make ends meet.

The region is traversed by eight small rivers. With the area accounting for nearly 16% of the total carbon emission in the country, it is of little surprise that all the river waters are completely polluted.

In other words, every inch of this land is prone to a catastrophe like Bhopal. The greed of industrialists, politicians and bureaucrats is not the only reason for this risk.

The media is equally to blame for this state of affairs. It will highlight Sonbhadra-Singrauli’s issues only after a disaster. Otherwise, it is happy to look the other way.

Enrico Fabian for The Washington Post via Getty Images
The chloro chemicals division of Kanoria Chemicals & Industries Ltd, located at Renukoot, produces some of the most dangerous substances for industrial use. It was acquired by the Aditya Birla group in 2011 at a cost of Rs 830 crore.

It is estimated that the waste produced by this factory kills 40-50 people every year on average. Most of this waste is released directly into the Rihand dam. And the effect is telling on the surrounding population.

Thousands of residents in hundreds of villages around the Rihand Dam have been completely or partially crippled.

“Waste from the Kanoria Chemicals factory at Renukoot kills 40-50 people every year on an average”
In December 2011, 20 people of the Kamari Dand village in Sonbhadra district lost their lives after using the water from the Rihand Dam. Thousands of cattle had also met with the same fate.

Investigations proved that the chemicals released from the Kanoria Chemicals Factory had poisoned the water. Yet, the issue did not attract enough media attention.

Earlier, a gas leak from the Kanoria plant had killed five people in January 2005. The accident reportedly occurred because of the negligence of company officials.

Villages after village in Sonbhadra are falling prey to the fatal disease of Fluorosis, a chronic condition caused by excessive intake of fluorine compounds.

There is hardly a person in villages like Padwa Kodawari and Kusumha, who has not been afflicted with some of kind of physical deformity due to this disease.

The power plants of Sonbhadra-Singrauli emit 1.5 tonnes of fly ash every year. This fly ash is composed of mercury that is extremely harmful to the human body. Traces of mercury have been found in the samples of human hair, blood and even crops of this region.

The locals have no option but to live with the impact of this pollution. The sun here is paled with the dust coming out of towering chimneys. A blanket of haze engulfs the air as soon as the evening sets in.

The pollution has not even spared the still-to-be-born babies. The death of children during the pre-pregnancy period has become a regular occurrence.

Yet, the state-run Obra and Anpara power plants are operating without any environmental clearance. The Central Pollution Control Board has ordered a close down stating they are ‘too dangerous.’

“State-run Obra and Anpara power plants are operating without environmental clearance”
However, nobody seems baffled with such blatant flouting of norms. The seeds of a Bhopal-like tragedy are being sown, not only in Sonbhadra-Singrauli belt but in every corner of the country.

The state as well as the Union Government is avoiding accountability in the name of development. For now, the Sonbhadra-Singrauli region is nothing more than a hen laying golden eggs for them.

While one Warren Anderson may have gotten away, there are many more in the making.


Toxic waste spill at Essar’s Power Plant in Singrauli

Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, Apr 15 : In yet another stark example of massive negligence, the mud wall that lined the fly ash dyke of Essar Energy’s Mahan-I (600MW) thermal power plant in Singrauli collapsed leading to fly ash-laden water seeping into Khairahi village, the Greenpeace said on Tuesday. 

Greenpeace demanded that Essar should take full responsibility of the fly ash spill in the region and shut down its plant immediately.

This is the second instance in a matter of a few months. 

In September last year, Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board’s (MPPCB) regional office in Singrauli reported that large quantities of fly ash was flowing from the plant into the Garha stream and surrounding areas. 

In January, this year, MPPCB had ordered the plant to be shut down because of this overflow. But the company managed to restart operations soon without putting any safeguards in place, Greenpeace noted.

“Fly ash from the coal power plantshas been a perennial problem for the residents of Singrauli. And the recent leakage of toxic fly ash from the Essar Power Plant in Mahan is simply unacceptable. Fly ash contains harmful heavy metals such as, mercury, arsenic and lead that can cause direct harm to the health of the people and the environment,” said Aishwarya Madineni, campaigner with Greenpeace India.

Fly ash is an end product produced from the burning of coal and when it is released in to the atmosphere, it contaminates both water and air. Large open spaces located amidst the villages known as ash ponds act as designated dumping yards, posing a direct threat to the lives of the people.

“Spilling of fly ash laden water is the worst form of water pollution. With the breaking of the fly ash dyke, water can also seep into the ground water system, rendering the water in wells and other water sources absolutely unfit for consumption. This way they enter into our food chain,” said Shripad Dharmadhikary, founder of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra. 

Recent reports highlighted mercury poisoning in the region. Both fish and human blood samples were found to have high levels of mercury in it. Mercury is a heavy metal associated with neurotoxicity and it is one of the major components that constitute fly ash.

While Essar’s new ash dyke is still under construction, Dharmadhikary points out that “to prevent such spills, the fly ash dykes have been directed to be lined properly. Unfortunately power plants seldom comply with this rule.”

Apart from heavy metals, fly ash is also suspected to have radioactive properties, which can cause genetic mutations. This precarious disposal of fly ash endangers the lives and livelihoods of all people living in the region. 

“The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environmentand Forests (MoEF) has expressed strong reservations against the utilisation of fly ash because of the heavy metals and radioactive elements,” said Dharmadhikary.

Coal ash is disposed off in two ways. One is through dry disposal, wherein ash is deposited in ash mounds. The second is wet disposal, where ash is mixed with water to make slurry which is disposed of in so-called ash ponds. 

“Both the methods have their own share of risks, with dry ash polluting air, and ash ponds contaminating water steams. There are ways in which, fly ash is ‘utilised’ in agriculture, filling low lying land areas, mine voids, or manufacturing fly ash cement and bricks. But the risk that the heavy metals and radioactive elements pose cannot be mitigated,” he explained.

In Singrauli, despite repeated complaints of the fly ash pollution from the residents and the local health officials, the government along with the profit-making companies have shown no interest to tackle the issue whatsoever, Greenpeace claimed.

It demanded that Essar should shut down all their activities until and unless it can ensure that adequate pollution control measures will be put in place and followed.

–IBNS (Posted on 16-04-2014)


Mahan coal block gets stage 2 forest clearance

The Hindu Bussinessline|NEW DELHI, FEB 13:  

The highly controversial Mahan Coal Ltd has received the stage 2 forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh, Essar Energy announced on Thursday. This coal block was allotted in 2006.

Mahan Coal Ltd is held 50 per cent by Essar Power (subsidiary of Essar Energy).

Mahan Coal Ltd will have to sign a mining lease agreement with Madhya Pradesh before commencing operations.

However, green activists expressed discontent with this news. They said this was the latest in the line of the Ministry’s new mandate to extend hasty clearances to infrastructure projects without giving due importance to environmental and social concerns.

According to Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, the project would affect thousands of people in at least 54 villages.

“Despite clear evidence of violations of the Forest Rights Act and other mandatory conditions, Mr. Moily has pushed through Stage II clearance for the Mahan coal block,” Pillai said.